Synopses & Reviews
Isoldes day has come. In Ireland her mother, the Queen, lies dying. The throne of the Emerald Isle, one of the last strongholds of the Goddess, awaits her. But while Ireland is her destiny, Isolde is already Queen of Cornwall, trapped in a loveless marriage to the mean-spirited King Mark. Her true love is his nephew, Tristan of Lyonesse, who has never married, remaining faithful to Isolde.
Across the sea in France, a young princess who shares Isoldes name enters the story. King Hoel named his daughter in honor of Isolde of Ireland, but young Isolde of France has always been determined to outdo Queen Isolde. She, too, is a physician and is called “Blanche Mains,” for her white hands and healing touch. Blanche is of an age to be married, and she has chosen her husband—Tristan of Lyonesse. Her father objects, but fate favors Blanche. King Mark has become suspicious of his wife and nephew, and when Tristan is wounded in battle, he sees a chance to separate them for good.
Mark sends Tristan to France to be healed by Blanche, who makes the most of the opportunity. Tristans letters to Isolde are intercepted, and he is told that she has given him up. Near death from his wounds, Tristan sends one last desperate letter to Isolde by a trusted servant. He is dying, he tells her, and asks for one final sign of their love. If she can forgive him for marrying another, she must come to France in a ship set with white sails. If the ships sails are black, he will know that she no longer loves him. Isolde immediately leaves for France, but when Blanche sees the white sails from the castle window, she pulls the curtains and tells Tristan that they are black. To her horror, he turns his face to the wall and dies.
There ends the traditional medieval story of Tristan and Isolde—with betrayal, death, and grief. But the original Irish legend ends differently, and so does this book, with magic and drama as only Rosalind Miles can write it.
About the Author
Rosalind Miles is the author of the bestselling Guenevere trilogy, as well as the Tristan and Isolde trilogy and I, Elizabeth. A well-known and critically acclaimed novelist, essayist, and broadcaster, she lives in England.
Reading Group Guide
Tristan and Isolde, star-crossed lovers in the time of King Arthur, have been celebrated in poetry, song, and legend throughout the ages. In her stunning new trilogy, Rosalind Miles—bestselling author of the dazzling Guenevere series—sets the fated duo in a dynamic, freshly imagined epic of conquest, betrayal, and desire. Book One introduced the intoxicating Isolde, renowned healer and princess, and Tristan, her powerful yet tenderhearted knight, as their all-consuming love blossomed against a backdrop of international war and court scandal. Book Two finds Isolde crowned Queen of Ireland, even as conniving forces unite to undermine her power, while Tristan is coerced into a journey that will take him to the very edge of madness—and even death—before he is reunited with his one true love. This guide is designed to help direct your reading groups discussion of master storyteller Rosalind Miless breathtaking The Maid of the White Hands.
1. What irreconcilable differences separate Breccan and his brother Tolen? Why does Breccans confrontation with Father Eustan and his monks lead to Tolens murder? Is the death ever avenged?
2. Merlin has only a brief cameo in this volume of the trilogy. What is the significance of his role? Does the dying queen trust him? Why does she accuse him of cherishing Arthur and Tristan above all others? What does she need Merlin to do?
3. Sir Greuzes knights follow and obey him long after brain damage on the battlefield claims his sanity, even when they know he perpetrates gory crimes against women. Yet they claim to operate under the code of chivalry. Are there other cases in the story where you find fatal flaws in the rules of chivalry?
4. Three conflicts are brewing throughout the novel: Breccan is drumming up a coup to take the Irish throne; Andred and Elva are making a power play for the Cornish throne; and Dominian is launching an assault on non-Christians. Which attack gains the most ground by the end of the story? How do these plots threaten Isolde and Tristans love affair? What is Isoldes strongest weapon in defending them?
5. Who is the knight promised to Isolde by the Lady of the Sea? Does the fact that Isolde needs to be rescued by a knight at the moment of her crowning undermine her power and authority as queen? What becomes of this savior figure? Who does he claim sent him?
6. Marks position as King of Cornwall is tenuous, since hes technically only a vassal to Queen Igraine. From her perch in Tintagel, Igraine sees and hears everything. Why does she allow Mark to carry on being such a buffoon? Why doesnt she put a stop to the unsavory influences on him, such as those of Andred and Dominian?
7. Isoldes mother leaves her court and the nation of Ireland in total disarray when she dies. How well does Isolde put it back together?
8. Kedrin is baffled by his sisters penchant for ruthlessly pursuing her desires. He thinks: “Treachery was the element in which Blanche lived. Indeed it was not treachery to her but common sense, to make sure that she got what she wanted, whatever the cost.” What do you make of Blanche? Are her father and brother too lenient with her? What does the Chevalier Jacque Saint Rocquefort see in her? Are you satisfied with Blanches happy ending?
9. Blanche has no problem convincing Tristan that shes an innocent maiden being bullied by her father into a brutal marriage with Saint Roc. Can Tristans mental and physical exhaustion be blamed for his lapse in judgment? Or is he truly naïve? Where else in the story is Tristan questionable as a judge of character?
10. The Lady of the Sea commands Isolde to focus on her duties as queen and the work at hand, and to let Tristan fend for himself. Does Isolde succeed in obeying these instructions?
11. Isolde has the Sight, allowing her ominous glimpses of the future, and of Tristans whereabouts when they are apart. Does she consider the Sight a blessing or a curse? Does it ever mislead her?
12. In denying their affair and defending their innocence, Isolde and Tristan are essentially liars. Does this color the way you perceive them as protagonists? How do they get off the hook when they are cornered by Mark in an open trial at Tintagel? Does Igraine know the truth?
13. After his adventures escaping Duessa, Falsamilla, and Blanche, Tristan laments that he has failed Isolde. Do you agree, or is Tristan being too hard on himself? What were his alternatives?
From the Hardcover edition.